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Live Fail Repeat

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Last night I watched the movie, Live Die Repeat : Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. I enjoyed it and would recommend it for action movie fans. It was the premise of the movie that intrigued me – the main character, a solider in a war against alien invaders, is able to reset time after dying.

Being in a war against a superior alien force, the opportunities to die are plentiful. Also knowing that he’ll be able to start over, the main character is able to take risks he would have previously avoided. Each time he dies he gets to try again learning from his previous attempts. As you would expect, he becomes a nearly invincible and fearless soldier.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had that ability? Would you believe me if I told you that you do have a similar ability?

For most goals, the penalty for failing is not death. We do have the opportunity to try as many times as necessary. Each time we fail we can take what we’ve learned and try again.

Why is it that most see failure as a permanent condition, like death?

In my life I have failed several times. I had found that sometimes success can be more difficult than failure. When you succeed you have to move into uncharted territory. You have to start the fail and repeat cycle all over again and run into new pitfalls. In additional after success, you often have more to lose if you fail.

Your level of success will depend on your ability to handle failure and keep learning.

Most often, there is no clear distinction between success and failure. For example, suppose someone named Jake took a job as a manager for the first time. As a new manager, Jake is bound to make mistakes but it is just as likely there will be aspects of the job that he excels at. Depending on the environment he works in and his ability to highlight his strengths, he could be perceived as failing or succeeding as a manager.

The better approach would be to work on areas that need improvement while recognizing areas and taking pride in areas that he excels at. Another approach would be to focus only on the areas he excels at and market himself as a specialist. Either approach may apply.

As a technologist, I constantly have to learn new skills so I get the chance to fail quite often. In the middle of my career, I found this process to be extremely stressful, but then I got better at coping with the reality of the situation and now I look forward to trying something new. What was once a curse is now a blessing.

What have you always want to do but didn’t because you were afraid of failing? What would be the worse that could happen if you tried and failed? Could you try again? Would your chances of success increase after failing? Whatever it is, I think you know the answer. The next question is: What are you going to do about it?

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

October 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Choose Your Path

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Success in life is about making choices. When making a decision, it is often difficult to determine which choice is the right one. Just as often, the right choice is a personal one. What is right for you, may not be right for someone else.

As you look back on choices you’ve made, you may determine that you could have made better choices. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Rather, give yourself credit for being able to grow, learn and recognize better choices in the future.

There is one choice that can be applied to any situation and that is choosing not to choose. When you simply let life push you in any direction without making a conscious decision at best you will make no progress. At worse, you could be led down a dark and dangerous path.

Drug abuse, obesity, alcoholism, crime are just a few examples of what is in store for those who choose not to choose. Nobody chooses to be obese – it just sort of happens. Most drug addicts would give anything to free of the uncontrollable urge to do drugs.

When I was a teenager, I was in an environment where drug abuse was common and expected. Everybody was doing it. The default path was to simple become part of that culture. However, I chose not to take drugs. I remember making a conscious choice not to abuse legal or illegal drugs (except caffeine but I did not know it at the time). Being born poor, I knew I had disadvantages in life and that doing drugs was not going to make my situation better. I consider that choice to be one of the most significant choices in my life.

Every time I would hear about someone I once knew who died from an overdose, ended up in prison or was seen lying on the street, I recognized that that was the default path I could have taken. I simply chose not to.

The choice to avoid drugs did have it’s difficult moments. I had to leave or not attend parties where I knew drugs going to be. I had to end or avoid friendships with people who used. I had to accept that I was going to be labelled as “not cool”. The terms “goody-two-shoes”,”narc”,”Momma’s boy” were just some of the labels thrown my way.

Despite my good choices, I did fall into alcohol trap however. For some years as an adult, I chose not to choose regarding alcohol. I knew and know now that there people who can consume alcohol without it being a major problem in their lives, but for me and my family history and the environment I grew up in, the default path led to over-consumption, alcoholism and all the other difficulties associated with drinking too much.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I chose to get out of the alcohol trap and get off the default path. The effects of drinking had only just started to erode the quality of my life so I believe I stopped before I became a full-blown alcoholic.

The important thing to remember is that we always have a choice. If you have been overweight for years, you can choose to take a different path. Sure it may be difficult and require a great deal of effort, but the choice is still yours.

Think about what you really want out of life and then choose to take the path to get you where you want to go.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

August 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

Don’t Trust Your Doctor

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With a title like that you may think I’m advocating alternative medicine, but that’s not the case. Despite issues with the medical establishment, your doctor and other certified health care professionals are still your best source of information and treatments. What I am suggesting is that you question the wisdom of your doctor regarding your health and the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

More often than not, a good doctor will be more of a partner than an authority regarding your health. They will let you know what they think and make educated suggestions about treatment options. On the other hand, there will be times when the diagnosis will be so obvious and the treatment so effective that you would be wise to just do what they tell you to do. It’s up to you to do your homework, consider their suggestions and ask about other treatment options or diagnostic tests.

For example, doctors are notorious for over-prescribing antibiotics. This has led to growth of  antibiotic resistant bacteria. Once I was dealing with sinus infection that I couldn’t kick. I was hesitant to take antibiotics because I knew it was just a matter of time before my body beat it, but I finally broke down and went my local walk-in clinic and ,after a brief examination, asked for antibiotics. The attending physician had no problem giving me the prescription and did not even suggest I could just give it time.

Another big problem is the over-prescription of antidepressant drugs. Don’t get me wrong – antidepressant drugs can be a life-saver (literally) for people who need them. The issue is when doctors prescribe them without make a strong case for therapy first. I would argue that a primary care physician has no business prescribing antidepressants and that this should be the business of a psychotherapist with the proper training and credentials.

I have a friend, let’s call him Alan, who was dealing with mild mood issues and thought it was time to seek professional help. He was given a number to specialist and gave them a call. Below is an approximation of how that call went:

Doctor’s Office: “Acme Psychological, how can I help you?”

Alan: “Hi, I’d like to talk to someone about mood issues I’ve been having.”

Doctor’s Office: “We can help you. Would you prefer medication or talk therapy?”

Alan (confused): “I don’t know. I’d prefer to see someone before deciding on a course of treatment.”

Doctor’s Office: “Okay, talk therapy then.”

What’s really troublesome about this conversation was that the patient was asked to choose a treatment plan without even being accessed by a professional. As it turns out, the talk therapy was very effective and he was able to learn a few simple techniques for managing his mood WITHOUT becoming dependent on mind altering drugs.

The average person when faced with the same choice as my friend would likely just take the drugs without considering therapy. With antidepressants, once you find a drug that works for you, you pretty much have to take it for the rest of your life. Most have side effects – the most severe being suicidal thoughts.

In general, I believe the medical establishment is not well equipped for helping patients make the right decisions for the treatment of mood disorders. Health Insurance companies along with the government may have a bias towards prescribing drugs rather than treatment. Treatment is more costly for one and requires that the patient plays an active role in getting better. Psychotherapy be difficult to quantify, control and enforce pricing guidelines.

The only way to insure that you get proper treatment is by doing your homework, asking questions, raising concerns and taking charge of your health care.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

August 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm

What You Think Is More Important than What You Eat

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Just as you can choose to which foods you put in your body, you can also choose what thoughts to have in your mind. And, just as low quality, unhealthy foods can have a negative impact on your physical health, low quality, unhealthy thoughts can be detrimental to your mental state.

I want to avoid labeling thoughts as “good” or “bad”. Using terms “good” or “bad” would be placing judgement on your thoughts and may lead one to think that they are a bad person for having bad thoughts. Rather let’s use the term maladaptive which is a fantastic word therapists uses to describe what most would call “negative thoughts”. To be consistent with other resources and help with understanding, I may use the term “negative thought” as well. Just know that this does not imply a judgement.

Below is Google’s definition of maladaptive:

maladaptive
not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environment or situation.

To promote mental health one can try to control thoughts that are not adjusted to the environment or situation. For example, if it rains on the day you planned to go hiking, the thought, “Why does it always rain when I want to do something outside!” could be considered maladaptive because there is really no connection between the rain and your plans. Thinking that a natural process is working against you is not rational or realistic. Also, the thought, “I should have planned for rain! I’m so stupid” can also be considered maladaptive. It would have been helpful if you had planned for rain, but not doing so is not a reflection on your intelligence. A rational approach would be to consider it as a learning opportunity so you can take steps to account for rain in your future plans. You can replace your maladaptive thought with the rational thought, “If I had planned for rain, I could have packed rain gear and we would have had the unique opportunity of hiking in the rain. In the future, I’ll do that.”

As you can see above, the rational thought would have a person better prepared to handle rain in the future while feeling better in the present.

With dieters we often hear something along these lines: “I’ve tried every diet there is. I just can’t lose weight.” While we know that it is more difficult for some people to lose weight than others, we also know that anyone can lose weight with the right strategies. We can also be sure that this person has not tried “every” diet. A more rational thought could be, “I’ve tried a number of different diets that don’t appear to work for me. Could there be flaws in my approach that I am not aware of? I need to gather more information. I’m sure there is an approach that will work for me that I just have not found yet.”

One approach to changing how you think is to write down your maladaptive thoughts and then right down a rational thought for each. Seriously, don’t just do it in your head. If you want to improve how you think you will need to write it down. You don’t get points for good intentions.

Below is an example of an automatic thought/rational response listing:

Automatic Thought
I failed my exam. I am so stupid.

Rational Response
Obviously, I wasn’t prepared for the exam but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’ve done well in other exams. What can I do in the future to better prepare myself for an exam?

From the example above, you can see how simple it would be to use this strategy. You can use a paper notebook or word processing software such as Google Docs or Google Sheets. Don’t worry about the medium or the format – just use what you prefer. It’s the process that is important, not the specifics.

I’ve just scratched the surface on the subject of automatic negative thoughts. I suggest you read more. Below is a link to an article that goes into more details:

AHHA: ANT Therapy

It’s surprising how few people know about techniques for managing negative thoughts. When you consider that just about everyone knows that physical exercise is beneficial to your health, why wouldn’t strategies for improving mental health be just as well known? I suspect the stigma of having mental health issues prevents people from even discussing it. There may be a fear that if you do work to improve your mental health, that people may think your mentally unstable. The truth is that everyone could benefit from the strategies.

Once I was asked by friend, “Why do you exercise and eat healthy? You are in great shape.” I was stunned at the person’s lack of understanding of a healthy lifestyle. It’s not a series of actions to get to a certain point and then stop. It’s a way of being. The same applies to developing mental fitness. I don’t do it because I’m mentally ill – I do it because I want a healthy lifestyle.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

July 31, 2014 at 9:39 am

Don’t Compare Yourself With Anyone

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As we strive to improve ourselves, it is tempting to compare ourselves with others. No matter how much we are failing, there will be someone else we can look at and tell ourselves that at least we are doing better than them. On the flip side, it is also true that no matter how successful we are, there will be someone else doing better.

Comparing ourselves with others is a destructive habit. It can prevent us from pushing forward when faced with failure and it can be demotivating when we are succeeding.

When you compare yourself with someone else, you are not seeing the whole truth. Everyone is different, with different motivations, advantages, backgrounds and strengths. Someone who is doing better than you at one aspect of life, may be struggling in others where you excel. A person who is failing where you are doing well, may not place the same level of importance on that particular endeavor. Whatever the differences, when you compare yourself to someone else, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

The better approach is to look to others for inspiration and strategies. It is not only acceptable to look to others for ideas, it is required to succeed. The difference is that you need to be more concerned with the behaviors than the results. Ask yourself: What is the other person doing that contributed to their success and is this a behavior I can adopt?

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

June 11, 2014 at 7:42 am

Change Your Mind, Change Your Body

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Living a healthy and fit lifestyle requires a constant and high level of effort. For those of us who were not raised in an environment that promoted exercise and and healthy diet, there can be a persistent pull to return to old habits. As much as we know that a healthy lifestyle is not temporary, our habits and conditioning will take much longer to adjust.

It can be exhausting to consciously push myself on a daily basis to get my workout done and to avoid certain foods. It has gotten easier but I wish the urge to exercise was as natural as my urge to sit on the couch and just watch TV. I wish I craved broccoli or spinach as much as do cheesecake or pizza.

When I see someone who is obese eating foods that contribute to their life threatening condition, I can relate. I get it. I can’t judge because if it were not for being exposed to positive influences, that would be me. From a genetic and environmental standpoint, I should be about 300 pounds, suffering from diabetes and dealing with a number of other health issues.

What keeps me going is knowing what is true. I don’t think that if I gave up I may end up overweight and prematurely die – I know that it will happen. I don’t think that eating right and exercise may keep me in shape – I know that it will. I have learned to avoid the soft words – could, would, should, may and I try to frame things in definite terms. I will exercise and eat right or I will suffer and die.

Knowing, without a doubt, the paths that are available to me has pushed to go beyond what is needed to be healthy and fit. With my risk factors, I can’t afford to be on the line between healthy and unhealthy lifestyles. I have to stay as far away from that line as possible. If 20% body fat is healthy, than I’ll strive for 10%. If exercising 3 times per week is part of healthy lifestyle, than I’ll exercise 5 times per week. If 80% compliance to eating healthy is good enough, than I’ll strive for 95%.

I believe the reason why so many people struggle to get healthy and fit is that they think too small and too big. They overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term and they underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term.

I knew an obese woman, who must been about 220 pounds, say that if she got down to 180 pounds she would be happy. That still about have been over 50 pounds overweight. If she had accomplished that, it would have been a great accomplishment, but what do you think would happen when she hit that goal? She would struggle to maintain that weight and with the lack of something to strive for she would eventually gain the weight back and then some.

Another thing that bothers me it that she put weight loss as a prerequisite for happiness. Happiness is not related to how much you weigh. Being healthy and fit can help you be happy, but ultimately, happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy at 300 pounds and you can choose to be miserable when you are lean and fit. She got it in reverse. Getting fit is not be a prerequisite for happiness. Happiness is a prerequisite to getting fit. When you choose to take action to improve your live, you can choose to be happy about the journey.

When I first started on my fitness journey, I looked for something visual to focus on as a marker for what I wanted to achieve. I picked the Men’s Health magazine with Ryan Reynolds on the cover as something to strive for. I decided that was going to be the level of leanness I was looking for. As out of shape as I was, most people would have considered that unrealistic, but when I chose that cover as a visual goal, I knew without a doubt I was going to achieve it. To be accurate, I knew without a doubt that I was going to take the actions I needed that would get me to that level of leanness – whether or not I achieved it was irrelevant.

I had thought that I was choosing a goal that would keep me busy for the next five to ten years. I met my goal in one year. From looking at the cover, I would guess that his body fat percentage was between 10-12%. I believe I hit 10% this past January – it’s hard to know for sure as the calipers I use are not that accurate at that level of leanness but at this point losing any more fat has to be judged by how I look in the mirror – if I choose to continue.

Even thought I did accomplish it in one year, If I had decided to hit my goal in one year, I probably would have failed. During the process, every time I had a set-back, I would tell myself that I was in this for the long term and that I would succeed and with every step forward I would feel a sense of accomplishment that I was progressing. With that mindset I did not rush and I was not forced to starve myself.

The real secret to my success was in setting a definite path. When I started, I thought really hard about what it would take to accomplish my goal. I also took an honest assessment of my limitations. I knew that I had a tendency to be really enthusiastic at the start but then would lose interest over time. I decided then that if I did lose interest that I would continue anyway. I realized at the start that my ability to keep going when I did not feel like it was going to be the reason I succeeded or failed. With that in mind, every time I exercise when I did not feel like it, I gave myself extra credit.

The day you exercise when you don’t feel like it is worth more than ten days you exercise when you are eager to do so. That day you refrain from eating unhealthy foods when your cravings are almost unbearable is many times more important than those days when there are no temptations.

When we give in to our urge to miss a workout or eat unhealthy foods, we miss out on an opportunity to grow.

I apologize for rambling in this post but it is difficult to write in words the inner challenges we must face when making lifestyle changes. Anyone who ever succeeded has had to figure out how to address the internal changes they must make to achieve their goal. To succeed in adopting a healthy and fit lifestyle is more about what is going on in your head than it is about exercise or diet.

 

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

June 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

How Do You Handle the Hungry Horrors?

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Since before I can remember, I’ve used the term “hungry horrors” to describe a state of extreme desire to eat. I don’t associate with real hunger because it can occur even when calorie consumption has been met or exceeded for the day.

After a quick online search, I could not find any medical or scientific references to Hungry Horrors even though it is mentioned in numerous anecdotal articles. What surprising is that all the articles I’ve read appear to describe it in the same way.

When the Hungry Horrors hit, eating a moderate amount of food does not provide relief. When you start eating, it just gets stronger. It only goes away when the stomach is completely full. When it is gone there’s an unpleasant bloated feeling – not like the feeling of satiation you get from eating when you are truly in need of food.

Anyone who has had the Hungry Horrors will know exactly what I’m talking about.

I did find an article that offers an explanation of the cause: Explaining the Hungry Horrors. It suggests that it is caused by Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). I believe the effect of  EPOC is overrated. I certainly don’t believe it has a measurable effect days later. Still, I think the article does offer something worth considering and that is that hunger can occur for calorie expenditure that occurred days before.

There a biological process called homeostasis that explains how humans maintain a certain weight in the absence of extreme external factors. Left alone, people will generally maintain a healthy weight with little or no effort.

In light of the current obesity epidemic, one may dismiss the concept of  homeostasis as being effective in maintaining a healthy, but we must consider the external factors that screw up homeostasis. Modern society is fraught with conditions that contribute to weight gain, mostly access to abundant cheap, low quality food and few opportunities for physical exertion.

As individuals we must deliberately find ways to counter the negative factors in our environment. We have to make conscious choices about what we eat and we have to do exercises that simulate what our ancestors did naturally to survive. If we eat what they ate and did what they did, there would be no obesity epidemic.

So how does homeostasis relate to Hungry Horrors? Well, as stated homeostasis is trying to keep a body at a certain weight, but all those external factors have messed up the balance. When we get the urge to eat to bring our weight back up to “normal”, the foods we eat are not sending the right signals to our brain to tell the system to stop sending hunger signals.

If you eat a snack loaded with sugar the weight and volume of that snack is nowhere near what the body thinks it needs to eat to be satiated. So, we eat more. If you were to substitute that sugary snack with a low calorie-density food such as vegetables, you would feel full faster. Unfortunately, the human body becomes accustomed to getting sugar so the craving will still be there even though the hunger isn’t.

When hit with a case of the Hungry Horrors, the body wants the most calorie-dense food that’s available. If all that is available is healthy vegetables, that will satisfy it, but calorie-dense foods are always available. Even if it means getting into the car and driving to a 24 hour store, the urge to do that will be strong – almost unbearable.

In a house full of nothing but healthy foods, I’ve had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and order a pizza. Most of the time, I can make the right choice, but the average person who hasn’t committed to a healthy lifestyle has no chance of fighting the urge.

At times I may seem a little extreme in the advice that I give, but I’m nowhere near as extreme as the environment we live in. I was always a health conscious person but despite that, I saw my weight grow steadily year after year. It was only when I fully acknowledged the forces I was fighting against was I able to turn it around and get back down to a healthy weight.

We have to realize that this is a fight to the death. If you don’t understand the stakes, you will lose. The medical community has figured out tricks to keep us alive despite our bad habits, but is simply staying alive enough?

Since, I’ve started this journey, I’ve had a number of tough conversations with people I care about. By far, the toughest conversation I’ve had was the one I had with myself when I first started. I knew what I needed to do, but I could not see a way to make the changes I needed to take control of my health. I remember coming to the realization that even though I could not see the entire path to the destination, that didn’t mean the path wasn’t there.

Now that I’ve achieved the goal of a healthy body, I have a perspective that helps me understand others who are dealing with weight issues. A part of me wants to force them down the path I just took but I know my path will not be their path. They have to find their own way.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm